18 April 2010

Hockey Night in Mexico

Selección mexicana de hockey sobre hielo
A Mexican player leaves the ice after team Mexico dropped a 5-2 decision to Australia on April 14 at the Division II World Hockey Championship played earlier this month in Naucalpán, Mexico.

Hard to believe, but Mexico hosted a world hockey championship tournament April 10 - 17 at a nondescript rink in Nuacalpán, an industrial suburb to the west of Mexico City.

(I attended one day of the tournament so I could file a dispatch on the quixotic quest for glory in the lower echelons of international hockey; click here to read the dispatch in the Ottawa Citizen.)

The Mexican team finished fifth in the six-tournament, besting only Turkey. But players on the Mexican squad say they made progress at the event by putting in credible performances against the "elites" of Division II such as Spain, Australia and Belgium. Indeed, Mexico lost 4-2 to Spain - the eventual tournament winner - and 5-2 to Australia and Belgium. The scores were more lopsided at past events.

In the game against Australia, the "Hockeyroos" played a physical game that wore down the smaller Mexicans. One Australian player commented that many on the team got their sporting starts in rugby union and rugby league - an advantage for a contact sport like hockey. The Mexicans, he said, play an aggressive game and show lots of heart, but needed to work more on establishing a system.

Hockey is a boutique sport in Mexico, which has barely a dozen rinks. Mexican players gain experience by heading to tournaments and summer hockey camps in Canada. The Mexican Ice Hockey Federation plans on organizing a senior league that would begin play this fall. Such a development would be a long way from the origins of hockey in Mexico, which federation president Joaquín de la Garma said began in the late 1950s when an Ice Capades-style show performed in the Arena Mexico and left a sheet of ice that a few determined hockey players were able to use.

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